As of this past Saturday, the Boston Bruins know that defenseman Zdeno Chara will miss each of their last two games before the Olympic break. Head coach Claude Julien told the New England hockey press corps that the captain will take off for his opening ceremony duties sometime between Tuesday’s tilt with Vancouver and Thursday’s visit to St. Louis.
That will mean deleting the minutes-played leader from a blue-line brigade that is already missing Dennis Seidenberg and Adam McQuaid. Seidenberg is out for the season and both WEEI.com’s DJ Bean and CSNNE.com’s Joe Haggerty wrote on Monday that Julien is declaring McQuaid “very doubtful” for game action this week.
Haggerty quoted Julien as elaborating, “He hasn’t started skating yet” and that “He’s been out too long for me to throw him out there, so I’d be very surprised to see him.”
That is an admirably prudent approach on the skipper’s part. At this rate, the Bruins might as well rid McQuaid of any pressure to return until after the Olympics. The “very doubtful” outlook Julien provided to the press should really just morph into something along the lines of “definitely and immutably not.”
Haggerty’s report only briefly touched upon some of the reasons why it is best to let someone other than McQuaid step in to spell Chara and give Boston a quorum of six active defensemen. But it would be a beneficial move for both McQuaid and any AHL call-ups who relieve him in terms of making mild sacrifices in the present for greater gains in the future.
Why not use Chara’s impending absence as an excuse to give a prospect more extramural action in a Boston uniform? It is either that or open the door to the specter of injury-related excuses in the more decisive stages of the season.
Yes, this would mean confronting a strong St. Louis squad and a desperate divisional rival from Ottawa with only one defender bearing more than two years of NHL experience. It would mean leaving the 30-year-old Johnny Boychuk to lead an otherwise unripe sextet of Matt Bartkowski, Dougie Hamilton, Torey Krug, Kevan Miller and David Warsofsky.
So be it for two games. Even if valiance fails to translate to even one of four possible points, two games are worth risking in order to better ensure the two months that follow the respite.
McQuaid is in the midst of trying to return from his third multi-week injury in 2013-14 alone (transactions/injuries list on his TSN.ca profile). He has already missed eight games with a groin ailment in November, nine with a lower-body injury in December and now six games and counting with his current difficulty.
With that recent history, the risks of rushing him back into action this week project to outweigh the rewards of a full five-week recuperation period. The safer choice would amount to a 38-day gap between his last appearance on Jan. 19 and his next at the end of February.
The Bruins can give McQuaid that option by telling him outright that they will press on with Boychuk, the freshmen and the sophomores in Chara’s absence.
It is already looking like they could do just that. An official team press release Monday morning noted that Warsofsky, a veteran of four NHL games, has come up from Providence.
With Warsofsky presently constituting the seventh defenseman on the NHL roster, Boston’s best-case scenario for the balance of the week would have him dressing for Thursday and Saturday’s action. That would entail three days of practice followed by a bout with the Blues, the team that originally held his rights, then his second career meeting with the Senators.
Although adding Warsofsky would most likely also entail growing pains that surface on the scoreboard, odds are a freshly activated McQuaid would not make much of a difference for the better. In turn, it is best for the Bruins to spend the last pre-Olympic week prioritizing everybody’s post-Olympic outlook.
Working in Warsofsky for the two Chara-less games ought to serve a benefit in that department, too. Besides giving McQuaid a chance to ensure better health for the homestretch, the Bruins can groom another youngster for future fill-in nights.
Think about it. Starting with a Feb. 28 visit to Buffalo, the post-Olympic portion of the regular season will cram 25 games into 45 days. That includes 18 games in 31 days for the end of February and the full breadth of March.
Regardless of whether they pursue, let alone successfully execute a deal for another defenseman, the Bruins will need to be ready to use their spare parts. That would include Warsofsky and possibly Zach Trotman, who has taken two NHL twirls this season.
Injuries, illnesses and sometimes a simple need to rest a given key player are a fact of life when the schedule reaches the peak of its rigor. Those are elements Boston will be facing at times in the homestretch, particularly if it is to take measures to preserve the likes of Chara for the playoffs.
Preparation is one means of keeping those factors from becoming excuses. In this case, it involves preparing less experienced skaters to competently step into the lineup on a semi-regular basis throughout March and April.
Lending Warsofsky more NHL seasoning, even if it is just two games’ worth, is one convenient means of preparation.
Preparation, preservation and prevention on the McQuaid side of the story should be the Bruins’ mantra for the latter half of this week. If they follow that and reap the right results down the road, then the absence of Chara, their towering elder statesman, will have promoted the growth of their young defensive corps.
Unless otherwise indicated, all statistics for this report were found via NHL.com